Move over, Esperanto.
March 20, 2002 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Move over, Esperanto. ould this be a powerful enough alternative to the legacy of Zamenhof to catch on? Could it threaten to end linguistic diversity?
posted by BT (23 comments total)
William Shatner knows Esperanto. Proof can be found in the 1965 Esperanto classic: Incubus.
posted by chrish at 1:02 PM on March 20, 2002

"It is the common language of Western civilisation." Here's where Esperanto, and now this pidgin, always lost me. Why is it that all these so-called international languages so conspicuoulsy ignore all of Asia and Africa? And if we're going to ignore them anyway, why not just have everyone speak English (which is a fully functional blend of Germanic and Romantic languages that's already known by millions and millions)? Seriously, I'm asking.
posted by Gilbert at 1:23 PM on March 20, 2002

English is already the international language of business... why not the world?
posted by TacoConsumer at 1:29 PM on March 20, 2002

I'll pay attention to either Esperanto or Interlingua when the number of speakers surpasses the number of people who speak English, Spanish, or Chinese.
posted by straight at 1:32 PM on March 20, 2002

I've been a fan of Esperanto ever since it was the native language of the afterlife in Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld books. (Though not enough of a fan to actually learn it.)

This Esperanto FAQ does a good job of tackling some of the questions here, such as whether it's too Western in origin and why ease of learning makes it a better international language to learn than English.

It also claims that only 8-9 percent of the world currently speaks English, which I would find amazing if true. Maybe Chinese should be the international language.
posted by rcade at 1:43 PM on March 20, 2002

Straight, what I pay attention to are the ideas at work. I thought what was particularly interesting about this was the insight they’ve had they essentially seeks to co-opt several already-spoken languages in order to create a formalized lingua franca which wouldn’t be burdensome for any speaker of a “romance” language to learn – and which shares a lot of vocabulary (if not grammar) with modern English, a language which borrowed heavily from French and Latin. The crucial difference here is that they base their formulations on what already exists -- the intersections between Italian, Spanish, French, English are their starting points. By excluding what isn’t common to these “control” languages, one doesn’t follow (as in Esperanto) a vision of what a “rational” language would look like. Rather, what’s already common is regularized and formalized. It privileges what people do instead of what they should do – which makes it, in my book, an insightful innovation. Take a look around the site: much of it’s pretty easy to pick up, even with just high-school French or Spanish.

I don’t know – artificial languages are just cool.
posted by BT at 1:46 PM on March 20, 2002

There's also the similarly named, but different, Interlingue.
posted by c3o at 2:01 PM on March 20, 2002

From the link I just posted:
IALA-Interlingua is, then, an interesting model of the features common to the southern Romance languages. Interlingue-Occidental on the other hand is a «pan-europan» language. But because today «European culture» (at least where language is concerned) essentially represents the «international culture» (without belittling other cultures!), Interlingue-Occidental is the «international language».
posted by c3o at 2:03 PM on March 20, 2002

For a more artificial language, look at lojban (aka loglan -- the logical language). sabren was learning this a while back. And there are lots of other International Auxiliary Languages. Then there are the English variants like Basic English, or even simplified Esperantos like Ido. One of them was sort of based on Esperanto but deliberately borrowed grammar and vocabulary from non-Romance languages such as German to give it a more familiar "feel".

As I understand it Cantonese Chinese is the largest number of native speakers, Spanish is the native tongue of the most countries, and English is the most widely spoken, the modern trade language -- especially if you include the pidgins.

Of course, the real question is where the rubber meets the road. Scientific communication tends to be insular within languages, certainly published work (which is recognized as a serious problem); although English is spoken at most international conferences. Cooperative ventures such as the International Space Station don't use an artificial language, they have the astronauts learn Russian and the Cosmonauts English.
posted by dhartung at 2:16 PM on March 20, 2002

lojban looks fun!
posted by rhyax at 3:46 PM on March 20, 2002

Language opens worlds at the The Klingon Language Institute!

It's pleasant to play a tape of the local language in the background while driving. You'll find tapes, books, and people willing to make photocopies, under "Learning Aids" for North American Indian languages.
posted by sheauga at 6:16 PM on March 20, 2002

But it's not as fun to say "My TV's in Interlingua, you know that that's a bitch..."
posted by dagnyscott at 6:30 PM on March 20, 2002

When Esperanto or Interlingua speakers outnumber Klingon speakers, we'll talk.
posted by RylandDotNet at 6:53 PM on March 20, 2002

William Shatner knows Esperanto. Proof can be found in the 1965 Esperanto classic: Incubus.

If I recall -- and I may be getting my information from The Daily Show, so bear with me -- he didn't actually learn it, just his lines, and that his pronunciation isn't held in high regard with esperanto enthusiasts.

There was also an article in The Economist (print edition, subscribers can bury around in the web archives if they want) about a year ago ago a (small) effort to establish a simplified Latin as the common language for the EU.

I do think all these artificial languages are doomed to failure...but they are just too cool, as BT says.
posted by sherman at 6:58 PM on March 20, 2002

Interlingingua's been around for 50 years, without making a ton of headway. I wouldn't hold out much hope for it. One fun thing, however, is that google seems to think it's Italian, which makes translation interesting: Colliger him history is an endless work - ma a work with great value. Ci it appears history of the history of interlingua, since illo is evolvite post anno of work public. A work that certo non is finite.
posted by rodii at 7:25 PM on March 20, 2002

Interlingua appears to homogenize all Romance languages into a simplified Spanish.
Terralingua is dedicated to preserving linguistic and biological diversity.
posted by sheauga at 8:39 PM on March 20, 2002

I've always liked the idea of artificial languages, though I have been too lazy ever to actually learn one, and though I think the chance of one of them ever being adopted by a wide range of people is pretty much near zero.
Conceptually, one of the most interesting ones is Glosa, originally designed Lancelot Hogben, which combines a vocabulary based on ancient Greek and Latin with a syntax and grammar that is fairly close to Chinese. (More on Glosa here).
There is also Novial, invented by the linguist Otto Jespersen.
A lot more artificial languages are listed here.
posted by Rebis at 9:55 PM on March 20, 2002

Tolkien said
Esperanto's best,
Just learn that one
And forget the rest.
Burma Sxavo.
posted by otherchaz at 11:25 PM on March 20, 2002

I was raised bi-lingual, and believe that speaking another language gives a person certain insights—and maybe additional prejudices—about language. My immediate impressions: From an English standpoint, Esperanto is a hideous sounding and looking language. From a Spanish standpoint, it sounds really really bastardized and harsh. I think that one of the main problems Esperanto has is that it tries to combine a bunch of languages into one rather than starting all over, or stealing. While English borrows from all over the place, it generally leaves the word(mostly) in its normal and original pronunciation. With Esperanto, I think that a lot of people hate it simply because it sounds like some sort of rough mockery of their language.
Are there any others here who natively speak a language other than English that might give some input on this?
posted by Su at 11:55 PM on March 20, 2002

I speak Esperanto like a native....

(c) Spike Milligan
posted by salmacis at 2:00 AM on March 21, 2002

I think we should all learn Latin, because it rules. It worked as a "universal language" for quite a while -- at least among the educated classes, it was understood by all Europeans. Then again, I just like Latin. It shares aspects and vocab in common with most European languages (even non-Romance languages, like English and German) without being derivative of them and sounding like a cheap bastardization, as Su says of Esperanto...

The fact is, however, that a language will never become dominant except through political power. That's why English is poised at becoming a universal language, even though it's a hideously difficult one (esp. phonetically) ... it's probably the most-learned second language in the world right now.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:15 AM on March 21, 2002

Interlingua appears to homogenize all Romance languages into a simplified Spanish.

Exactly. We'd all be better off just learning Spanish.
posted by straight at 8:45 AM on March 21, 2002

yah ittl catch on just like esperanto did.
posted by Satapher at 11:26 AM on March 21, 2002

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